Various Artists

Philippines: Palawan Highlands Music

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The other major aspect of the work of contemporary Filipino composer Jose Maceda has been his establishment of an enormous library of native music from his country. This release includes songs from the island of Palawan, a long piece of land situated due north of Borneo and about 300 miles southeast of Manila, though much farther away than that in terms of modern culture. The disc is divided into several sections, the first of which consists of seven love songs. These are "simple" pieces, generally performed on lute-like instruments and zithers, accompanied by voice. Their combination of delicacy and casualness makes for an extremely touching effect, the underlying repeated phrases (not all that different from much Balinese music) supporting the plaintive, conversational vocals. The song "Kulilal ni Manisi," a duet between an apparently very young girl and a much older male, is as lovely a tune as one is likely to hear. These are followed by a few samples of "the little music of things," brief songs depicting day-to-day activities and happenstances, performed on lutes and Jew's harps, calm and tender and evincing an odd (and totally coincidental) kinship to some strains of American bluegrass. The disc ends with several longer epic and ritual songs that have a more serious character, the male voice quietly ululating over flutes, gongs, or simply the background noise of the forest. It's at once ghostly and stirring, evoking the strong image of a lonely hunter on a Palawan mountaintop offering his paeans to the gods or just keeping himself company through the dark night.